Review of “Biblical Doctrine” by John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue (Wheaton: Crossway, 2017)
John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue have put together a mostly solid lay-level systematic theology. While over 1,000 pages, the work is very approachable, making few assumptions about the theological education of the reader. As a lay-oriented work, the depth may not suit the needs of a seminarian, possibly even frustrating such a reader by devoting more length to basic concepts they already firmly understand. This is not a criticism, as MacArthur hits his targeted audience extremely well. He also chooses and introduces theological vocabulary carefully, avoiding both pretense and confusion; where possible, he uses non-technical language. In its organization as a book, the topics are well selected and appropriately sub-divided. Other reviewers may have quibbles about subjects missed or topics that could have been left out or folded into another section, but the approach taken seemed well paced and, for the most part, both logically divided and organically connected. Negatively, however, it does not use endnotes and is only very lightly footnoted; the work misses the opportunity to provide the reader for more in-depth study on a given topic or broaden their reading with outside resources. While he does provide a general bibliography in the back of the book, the reader is not provided with much motivation to seek the insights these works may contain.
On the core essentials of the Christian faith, MacArthur’s work is solid. His theology proper, bibliology, anthropology, hamartiology, and soteriology are, with a notable few exceptions, to be generally commended. He avoids some of the pitfalls common to explaining the of the Trinity and the Incarnation, affirming accepted orthodoxy and not wandering off into the analogies that often plague lay-oriented works. One of the exceptions I would mention occurs in his discussion of bibliology: “In Scripture, the person of God and the Word of God are everywhere interrelated, so much so that whatever is true about the character of God is true about the nature of God’s Word.”[note]70[/note] Addressing it charitably, this statement is highly problematic and could be readily misunderstood and misapplied. In an additional oddity, Table 2.1 “Symbols for the Bible” found on the following page, Jesus Christ is named a symbol, with the corresponding reality being named “personification of the Word.” [note]71[/note] Again, this is highly problematic. Both the Scriptures and the Eternal Son may indeed be named as the Word of God; however, they are not the Word of God in the same way. One could certainly find some other faults of varying degrees, but such mistakes are notable because they are few.
I must admit having read this book with some trepidation, knowing that my own beliefs in covenant theology and amillennial eschatology would strongly conflict with MacArthur’s dispensationalism. Indeed, my largest disagreements evolve out of those two loci. For example, he misrepresents covenant theology’s conception of the relationship between Israel and the Church as “replacement theology.” While I think he does an admirable job of explaining, in broad strokes, his dispensational premillennialism, I simply disagree with him. On a positive note, the only faults I would find with his doctrine of “personal eschatology” are rooted in his dispensational “cosmic eschatology,” specifically in the resurrection and final judgment. His ecclesiology is also negatively impacted by his dispensationalism and, of course, his rejection of the organic continuity of the New Covenant church and Israel. An odd inconsistency in his ecclesiology is found in the sub-section titled “A Promise of Success”: “Jesus has promised success to the church… even the threat of death cannot overpower his church.” Frankly, MacArthur leaves this passage unreconciled with his broader eschatology.
Though I have been relatively heavy-handed in the above criticisms of the work, this systematic theology is a worthwhile contribution. While I obviously cannot recommend it without reservation, MacArthur and Mayhue’s work in the essentials of Christianity is solid overall. So, perhaps you can just skip the chapter titled “The Future.”